Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Perez makes his case for 2021 chance with masterful recovery drive for first win

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix review

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All night long at the Sakhir Grand Prix it looked like Formula 1 was going to crown a new winner. And it did – but not the one which seemed set to clinch victory as the race headed into its final quarter.

George Russell, in a remarkable performance on his first appearance for Mercedes, led proceedings right up until the moment they wrecked his race by putting the wrong tyres on his car.

That opened the way for a result which was every bit as remarkable: Sergio Perez, in his penultimate race before being dropped by Racing Point, with no drive secured for 2021, running an old power unit after losing a podium finish four laps from home last week due to an MGU-K failure, and having fallen to last on the first lap of the race, scored a shock victory.

Russell snatches lead for Bottas

Start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Russell was straight past when Bottas stumbled
Valtteri Bottas had narrowly denied his new team mate pole position. But his advantage did not last long.

“The initial part of the start was OK,” he explained. “I hit the clutch target as planned.

“But then suddenly I had a spike of wheelspin, still for unknown reasons. It could be a torque spike or something. But just before the first-to-second shift I had a downgraded shift to the second gear so I lost momentum. That’s to be reviewed. [It] is really unfortunate, obviously.”

That hesitation allowed Russell, who had fumbled the controls on his unfamiliar Mercedes at times during practice, even selecting neutral at one point during qualifying, to slip up the inside and take the lead. And he drew ahead immediately when Bottas twitched wide at turn two.

“Being in the dirty air, with the tail wind and everything, I had a bit of a snap,” said Bottas.

They raced past the scene of Romain Grosjean’s shocking crash from one week earlier without incident, but that changed when they reached turn four. Sergio Perez had drawn along Bottas on his outside and Max Verstappen, eyeing a move between the pair of them, wisely backed out of it, opting for a run out of the right-hander.

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Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Verstappen, turfed out on lap one, could have won
Charging onto the scene came Charles Leclerc, who’d brilliantly qualified his Ferrari in fourth place, but not for the first time this year made a wildly over-optimistic move on the first lap which backfired. He snatched a brake and knocked Perez into a spin.

Leclerc’s car was sufficiently damaged that he retired on the spot. He also forced Verstappen to take evasive action, but he ran too wide in the run-off area and thumped a barrier. The pair who had shared the second row of the grid were both out, Verstappen fuming at Leclerc’s misjudgement.

The Safety Car was summoned while Perez dragged his Racing Point back onto the track, now last of the remaining 18 cars. “I think it’s a bit not straight, the car,” he told his team on the radio, “but it doesn’t seem to be too bad.”

Russell edges clear

As Russell lead, Bottas had to fend off Sainz
When the race restarted on lap six Russell showed his team mate a clean pair of heels and Bottas was passed, temporarily, by Carlos Sainz Jnr. The McLaren driver repeated Bottas’s mistake of running wide at turn two, relinquishing the position.

Russell managed his lead as if he hadn’t spent most of the season mired in the lower end of the field. By the 30th lap, on a track where lap times took less than a minute, he had a three second margin.

Bottas was finding it hard to get any closer. “The first stint was quite a mystery for me,” he said. “I decided to go with less front flap for the first part but I think it was maybe not ideal. For turn four, turn seven-eight, I was struggling quite a bit with the front end of the car.

“So I struggled to really get close. It seemed to be actually a difficult track to follow at. Once you were within three seconds you were always drifting into the corner.”

Only the Mercedes drivers had been able to get through Q2 on the medium tyres, leaving everyone to again wonder why a rule which only ever serves to increase the advantage of the quicker cars has remained in the regulations for so long. Sainz came in to get rid of his softs on lap 28, promoting Daniel Ricciardo, who did the same on the next lap.

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Russell hung on until lap 45 – past half-distance in the 87-lap race – while Bottas went four laps further, accepting the time loss at this stage in the hope of banking a performance advantage after they switched to hards.

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Perez patiently worked his way through the midfield
Bottas was eight-and-a-half seconds behind his team mate when he emerged from the pits, but said the hard tyre felt “a lot better”. He began cutting into Russell’s lead, aided by a Virtual Safety Car period when Nicholas Latifi retired, gaining almost two seconds through a better management of the interruption.

“In the second stint I was catching him at a pretty decent rate,” said Bottas. “So I knew everything was still going to be open and that most likely we were going to have a good battle.

“So nothing really unexpected there: He obviously did a mistake-free race, but nothing unexpected. I still knew that everything was still to play for, especially towards the end of the stint on hard tyres.”

By lap 60 his progress had slowed. Russell had encountered problems with his power unit (strictly speaking, Lewis Hamilton’s power unit, albeit on loan like the rest of the car) which a few quick switch changes addressed. The gap between them dipped under five seconds.

Mercedes may have dismissed the idea that Bottas and Russell were in a “shoot out” for a 2022 drive, but when asked by RaceFans before the weekend began Bottas admitted “it wouldn’t look so good on me if I have a normal race and if he beats me fair and square.” That was the outcome he was heading towards on lap 62. Then something happened which drastically changed the course of the race.

Aitken’s error lays trap for Mercedes

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
How Russell nearly avoided his race-losing pit stop – and the ‘smoking gun’ behind it
In a bizarre coincidence, it was Russell’s substitute at Williams, Jack Aitken, who inadvertently set in motion the series of events which cost the Mercedes driver victory. Aitken was edging towards Kevin Magnussen ahead of him when he ran too wide at the final corner and swiped the barrier, dropping his front wing on the track.

After initially calling a Virtual Safety Car period, race control realised a full Safety Car deployment was necessary. Mercedes’ drivers could have run to the end on their hard rubber, but they had no reason to pass up an essentially free switch to fresher tyres. Both drivers were summoned in, but it was a desperately late call for Russell, and in the ensuing confusion he was sent out of the pits with two of Bottas’s tyres fitted.

In response, Mercedes sent Bottas on his way after re-fitting his worn and, now, cold hard tyres. Russell had to come back in for fresh rubber, but was at least able to take the more suitable mediums. Luckily for Mercedes the stewards considered the infringement an unprecedented infraction and spared Russell a sporting penalty, fining the team €20,000 instead.

Now the race had a completely different complexion. Perez was leading: Having been last, he switched to mediums before the first restart, picked off seven cars in the first five laps when the race originally resumed, used his harder tyres to gain from two-stoppers like Sainz and Ricciardo, and passed both his team mate Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon.

The order therefore was Perez, Ocon, Stroll (who nearly hit the Renault at the restart) and Bottas. Next came Russell, who clearly remained a threat on his fresh and softer rubber. When the race began again on lap 68 he was straight onto his team mate’s tail. Bottas was struggling on his cold tyres.

“That was a nightmare,” he recalled. “Being on the old hard that already lost a bit of temperature in the pit stop against the guys with fresh mediums I was like a sitting duck.”

He went deep at turn four, handing Russell the initiative, and he swept by on the bumpy outside line at turn six. Even given the mitigating circumstances, this was ‘bad optics’ for number 77.

Pressing on, Russell relieved Stroll and Ocon of their positions in consecutive laps. As lap 73 began there was 3.4 seconds of clear air between him and Perez in a race to decide which would score their first win. But again, something happened which drastically changed the course of the race.

On lap 77 Russell stopped making progress in his pursuit of Perez. His left-rear tyre didn’t feel right. A slow puncture was diagnosed; incredibly, the third for the team in two races at the track, following Bottas’s double misfortune a week earlier. Russell peeled off into the pits for the fourth time on a day when he only needed to come in once, and Perez was left in the clear.

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Perez’s big win

Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Huge celebrations greeted Perez’s victory
Racing Point have been threatening to pull off a big result all season. They came close in Istanbul, but were undone Stroll’s tyre troubles and the brilliance of Hamilton.

This win was a vindication for Perez, who has known for three months he does not have an F1 deal for next year after his team chose to replace him with Sebastian Vettel. His last hope of remaining on the grid next year rests with Red Bull, and perhaps this will persuade him he is the driver they need for 2021.

Ocon, who preceded Perez’s departure from the same team two years earlier, took a similarly satisfying career best result with second, Renault’s best finish for 10 years.

Stroll, who has laboured to add to his points tally for several races, returned to the rostrum in third. But having seen his team mate come from the back to win, he had to draw an obvious conclusion about his own result.

“A part of me is a little bit disappointed as I think I could have won the race,” he said. “I went a little bit deep [at the] pit exit after my pit stop and Esteban managed to get by me and then I just didn’t have the pace. I locked up and Sergio went by.

“I just didn’t really have the pace to overtake Esteban so I got held up there a little bit. But all in very happy for the team, it’s an unbelievable result. First and third is exactly what we needed for the championship.” The team’s points bonanza lifts them to a valuable third in the standings, 10 clear of McLaren with one race remaining.

It was the first win for a Mexican driver for 50 years
Sainz was next home, leading a string of drivers who passed Bottas as his tyres faded at the end of the race: Ricciardo, Alexander Albon (who was stunned that Perez, who he spent much of the race sparring with, had won) and Daniil Kvyat (who unluckily pitted just before the Safety Car).

Russell collected the bonus point for fastest lap as he recovered to ninth behind his team mate. The stewards’ decision to spare him any punishment meant he at least collected the first points of his career. Three points which would be priceless to Williams were a meagre reward for his efforts as a Mercedes driver. He passed Lando Norris on the final lap, the McLaren driver taking the last point.

After a brilliant performance all weekend, Russell could justifiably feel furious that events beyond his control had conspired against him not once, but twice, in the course of a single race.

But he made his mark, and sent a clear message to Mercedes about his potential. Russell will have many more chances to win races. As things stand, Perez has only one.

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39 comments on “Perez makes his case for 2021 chance with masterful recovery drive for first win”

  1. I remember 2012 Brazil gp when hulkenberg was leading the race but he had a incident and did not win..I was a casual F1 follower before but from there on, I have been following Force India/Racing Point every season and this win from Checo feels like completing a full circle for me… 8 years of wait to finally see the team on the top step of the podium..worth the wait I think..really special race..

    1. Big same. I got into f1 heavily in the early 2010’s. Straight away I picked up ham and Sergio as my favorites. Clearly becoming a hamilton fan paid off pretty heavily in 2014 until now. Sergio’s win felt incredible after all that time just hoping he would get the odd podium. I think a lot of drivers would dislike holding the record of the most starts until a win, but I think it’s fantastic. It’s a real story of grit and determination. It would be awful if he didn’t make it back in f1, but the win softens the blow.

  2. Jonathan Parkin
    8th December 2020, 7:58

    In the case of Perez going to RB, I will say ‘be careful what you wish for. For his fans and for him. Marko isn’t going to want Perez to beat his golden boy Max who is going to be World Champion.

    Sergio may find himself in the same situation as Webber, Ricciardo, Gasly and Albon.

    I’m happy to be proved wrong

    1. @Jonathan Parkin
      I have been wondering this myself- I don’t expect Perez to outqualify Max often. But I think he will be handful in the races. I would still expect Max to have him covered but I would give Perez an outside chance across a season, particularly if Verstappen gets tangled up in incidents. That said Perez does have a hot head himself at times, so I again if I was a betting man, it’d be on Max. But Red Bull have proved they can’t manage two competitive drivers in a team from the Vettel-Webber days. And Marko is in my view quite a toxic character for the unfavoured son who isn’t the golden boy at the time. So even if Perez does go, he will have an uphill battle with the politics and RBR as well.

      1. I really agree. Max is faster than Perez, but Checo will put a pressure similar to the one Riccardo did.

        If they develop car equally for both drivers, Checo will beat Max quite a few times, but will make him uneasy. Marko has Max as his “little boy” and I think he doesn’t want another situation like the one with Riccardo. It’s more likely that if they sign Perez, will be similar to Barrichelo at Schumacher Ferrari.

        If RB would do like the McLaren’s good times, and allow both pilots to similar levels we could have a more open championship. Ham, Max and Perez. But i really know it’s very unlikely. They want the title specifically to Max. Maybe Hulkenberg suits more for what Marko wants. The Redbull’s Bottas. Helps do develop the car, brings lots of points home and doesn’t pressure so much the P1.

    2. I guess Perez has found himself on the wrong side of the garage before, particularly these last couple of years but also at McLaren under Whitmarsh.

      I think he’ll know full well what he’s getting into compared with a couple of rookies and I’d like to see how he’d do.

      Arguably Riccardo got inside his own head, but having once lead the team through some very difficult seasons before Max arrived there, I understand the resentment he must have started to feel when his teammate was suddenly top dog (and not even justifiably so at that point).

      1. From the first race it was obvious red bull were going to start supporting max. Ricciardo was leading and then they give Ricciardo the slow strat and magically max wins the race

      2. particularly these last couple of years but also at McLaren under Whitmarsh

        I know that is not what you mean, but it is important to remember that it was Whitmarsh who most supported Pérez during his stint.

    3. @jonathan
      “Sergio may find himself in the same situation as Webber, Ricciardo, Gasly and Albon.”
      You mean: having a superior teammate! (as did Vettel with Ricciardo, Bottas with Lewis, Vettel with Seb, Heiki with Lewis, Barrichello with Michael, the list goes on and on and on.)
      “I’m happy to be proved wrong”
      You’re wrong.

      @blazz
      “But Red Bull have proved they can’t manage two competitive drivers in a team from the Vettel-Webber days.”

      Really? 4 world titles in a row and Mark is still on very good terms with the entire Red Bull crew and with Seb.
      So is Daniel, who is also still on very good terms with the entire RBR crew and with Max.
      Shall we compare this with mercedes, and how they handled their two competitive drivers?

      “And Marko is in my view quite a toxic character for the unfavoured son”
      Compared with the toxicity of posters like you and Jonathan, Marko is a saint.

      1. “Marko is a saint”
        WHOOOOOOOOOOA.

    4. I’m a huge sergio fan. It would be brilliant to see him with max. I genuinely think he has what it takes to fight for a championship if he gets a good car. It’s true though, if he partners with max he will have nowhere to hide. At some point you have to put all your cards on the table and see what you’ve got. It’s certainly better than spending your entire career in the midfield without a chance at a top team.

    5. Pérez is by far the most successfull driver of the last decade not to race for the top teams (McLaren was no longer a top team when he got there).

      A proven quality driver, with a dozen of podiums to his name.

      If he gets the seat at RB and performs as bad as Albon, we’ll be sure of what we already strongly suspect : Red Bull only gives scraps to the number 2 driver.

      You can doubt youngsters like Gasly and Albon, but not a seasoned and proven veteran like Perez.

    6. Yeah Agreed.

      I hope RB learns from this season but the signs doesn’t look promising. RB have dogedly stuck to producing a twitchy car which only Max can drive. As good as Perez is in the Racing point, driving the RB would be considerably different, and good end up making him look ordinary. It says something for RB and the degree to which they act on driver input.

  3. I’m hoping for Red Bull to hire Perez so that an experienced driver can hopefully figure out what on Earth is going on at that second seat at Red Bull. I don’t buy the its a bit oversteery and twitchy and only suits Verstappen’s driving style explanation. Drivers of F1 level can adapt for that, especially when both Gasly and Albon have proven they can more than hack it in the Alpha Tauri.
    I noticed the poisoned chalice which is Red Bulls 2nd seat starting appearing about halfway through Daniel Riccardo’s final season with the team in 2018, not sure what changed.
    I think the problem is resources, I bet all the best mechanics and parts tend to find their way over to the Verstappen side of the garage.
    My theory is that Christian Horner is a rubbish team principal and instead of demoting drivers maybe Red Bull should demote Christian and promote Franz Tost. I think its inexcusable that the 2nd car in the team has been failing to perform for 2 and a half seasons now.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      8th December 2020, 8:58

      To be fair to Christian he is trying to make Red Bull a two car team, but like when Vettel and Webber were together he has to make sure Verstappen (and by extension Helmut Marko) is happy. If that means turning it into a one car team then so be it

      1. @Jonathan Parkin

        Sure Jonathan, from behind your desktop you really have a great insight in the inner workings of Red Bull, right?
        Brainle$$ is your middle name?

        1. Must be your first name then. I thought it was perfectly sound comment. Ive got more issue with Ratsacks ramblings but time and motivation to address it have beaten me, suffice to say its conclusions and arguments based on his own suppositions!

        2. @Oconomo, Just saw your two posts on this article. Request you to keep it civil and don’t make personal comments please.

        3. Is this the same guy who hates F1oSaurus by 1 million percent?

  4. Who ever gets the nod for the second RB seat, they need to understand they are definitely the No2 driver in every sense of the term. So I’m not sure Perez would be satisfied there, but if it is only a 12 month contract…

    1. @johnrkh I’m pretty sure most drivers would be happier with a second driver role in a top team with a chance to win the odd race rather than sitting at home watching it on TV.

      Perez is currently the number 2 driver at Racing Point anyway (and completely undeservedly so), at least at Red Bull it might be somewhat justified (and it’s up to him to show it’s not). Webber was number 2 at RB and still had the chance to grab himself a WDC – with team support he probably would have won it in 2010 but he still had the chance even without the full backing of the team. I don’t see any good reason for Checo to even think twice about the offer if it comes from Red Bull.

      1. Dave – I think 2010’s Vettel v Webber was made to look a lot more competitive due to Vettel’s failures. The only race where Webber dropped points through no fault of his own was Turkey, and even there it was just 10 points (given he would have won, which is no guarantee as Vettel was catching him quickly). Vettel had three car failures: Bahrain (cost him 13 points), Australia (25) and Korea (25). If Webber had suffered those failures, I can assure you the fans would have had been quick to come up with their own conspiracy theories that these were orchestrated by the evil Dr Marko against the stubborn Aussie bulldog hero.

        While Vettel was the architect of his own demise at Turkey, Webber did the same in Australia, when he crashed into Hamilton, and again in Korea, where not only did he spin out and retire, he kept his foot in with a damaged car, careered across the track dangerously, and took out Rosberg.

  5. There is no deeper delusion in praising Perez. Did you all forget he drives the mercedes 2019 ? Do you really forget this ?
    Yes he has pace but it’s only the car… And even by comparing him to stroll. to salvage a flawed analysis, it just proves he is weak.

    Oh and I almost forgot how dangerous he is when defending, see the most moronic move against Gasly in portugal. Perez is a glorified Magnussen or mazepin in a mercedes 2019.

    1. Did you all forget he drives the mercedes 2019 ? Do you really forget this ?
      Yes he has pace but it’s only the car And even by comparing him to stroll

      And Russell drives the 2020 Mercedes, in comparison to Bottas!

  6. Checo’s performances have been quite stellar, he definitely deserves to remain on the grid.

    And to be honest, i’d love to see him measuring up against Max… Who knows, he could give him a serious run of his money.

    Fingers crossed for an RBR/Checo announcement!

  7. This race reminded me of 2008 monaco GP. Ham hit the wall and got a puncture, and had to pit. It accidentally put him on the best strategy.

    Not taking anything away from sergio, I’m a huge fan. He absolutely deserved it.

  8. As much as I rate Perez, if I was at RB I’d approach Merc about buying out Russell’s contract. That would force Merc to either put Russell in the car in 2021 or sell his contract because I can’t see them sending him back to Williams with an RB offer on the table and keeping him happy.

    If Merc sell, I’d have the next “great” driver, someone who could sell products in the UK and someone to push or beat Max and score points. If Merc don’t sell I can still get Perez.

    It might also help to have a Brit in the car with Brexit as having two foreign drivers in a British team may be an issue.

    1. @velocityboy Totally inaccurate as far as the Brexit issue goes – foreigners aren’t going to be banned from the country. I mean, Perez for example is a non-EU driver in a British based team.
      Anyway, can’t see Russell going to RB. They have a record of destroying non-Max young drivers and Russell is still very young, and has spent all of his career bar one race fighting at the back. It would be a high-risk move for him. Plus, at the present time, I think Perez is a better fit for RB – they need someone who has a consistent track record, not an unknown quantity like Russell (albeit a very promising unknown quantity)

  9. Not the first name that pops in my mind as in derving of good fortune and a win, but, he earned it. Hopefully he can happily retire. There are less deserving drivers on the grid but it is not like he has had an exceptional career in f1.

  10. Don’t think it’s Red Bull for Perez, and very curious what his ’22 options are. If it’s Renault or McLaren it will worth it.

    Perez seems very strong mentally and I believe would not fold in a championship fight unlike most, but he has been error prone over the years, although I do understand that’s related to having to risk stuff in a bad car, + the midfield being more chaotic.

    Anyway, definitely deserves a seat in F1.

    1. @balue Error prone? Yes he was earlier in his career but since about 2015 onwards the thing most pundits etc have praised Perez for most is his consistency and reliability. Hence several very long points-scoring streaks.

      1. @tflb He even made an error in this race (flat spotting tyres), and there have been others just this year as well. Breaking his front wing in a clumsy move and losing a 4th place and possibly a podium in Austria was memorable, but also qualifying have not always gone according to plan.

        But pulling out the stops to show his very best side in the last races for the Red Bull seat shows what he’s made of.

        1. @balue oh I don’t deny he’s made mistakes, but less than many others. I would definitely put him in the top quarter of the grid for consistency. Certainly less mistakes than Bottas, Verstappen, Albon, Vettel, Leclerc and others in ‘top’ seats.

  11. If Checo has F1 option(s) for 2022 then what could they be? wingman at Merc? Renault? McLaren? Alfa Romeo? Ferrari??

    1. Just saw an article elsewhere where Perez is saying he would not make the same mistakes as at McLaren again, so maybe McLaren is going for Ricciardo and Perez which would be a great line-up.

  12. Fact. Perez is the first F1 driver to win a race after being last in the first lap. To achive that in a midfield car is just of the charts. Actually Senna once said it was his dream.

    As a Checo Fan and fellow Latinoamerican makes me a little bit sad, Perez still don’t have some people recognition but I guess as a latin-american he will never have it. Still after this season many have changed his minds.

    1. From the back to the win:

      SERGIO PEREZ 2020 – from 18th
      LEWIS HAMILTON 2018 – from 14th
      KIMI RAIKKONEN 2005 – from 17th
      RUBENS BARRICHELLO 2000 – from 18th
      MICHAEL SCHUMACHER 1995 – from 16th
      JOHN WATSON 1982 – from 17th
      1983 – from 22nd
      JACKIE STEWART 1973 – from 16th

      Very exclusive club!!

    2. But Senna was latin-american and that was not in the way of him becoming the most popular driver of all time, disproving your racism theory

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